“Secrets are generally terrible. Beauty is not hidden–only ugliness and deformity.” ~ L.M. Montgomery
After discovering another case of sexual abuse, I quickly run through the natural gamut of thoughts and feelings: from anger and shock to deep sorrow and anguish. And then just as quickly my mind focuses on one word: secrets.
So often I hear statements such as “why didn’t she tell someone?” or “he (the child) loved spending time with him (the perpetrator), if he was being abused why would he keep going back?” And the one I find most frustrating : “where was the mother?”
And the answer to all of these statements and so many more can be summed up in one word: secrets.
For a perpetrator to be successful, he has to keep his motivations and behaviors a secret. From the child (in the beginning) to the community, to those in authority and most importantly to the mother, the perpetrator hides behind secrecy. He or she does not wear red flags pointing to himself as a perpetrator. He has to keep it a secret.
So why does a child not tell that she is being abused? Why isn’t the child willing to expose the ugliness and deformity she feels after being sexually abused? Sadly each child has her own thought process for isolating and keeping that secret deep inside her.
Family legacy often plays a huge part in not revealing sex abuse. Unfortunately some families have a history of thinking the child has more knowledge of sexuality than is possible for a child, therefore the child may be punished for ‘having sex with Uncle Henry”. Some families have a history of believing that Uncle Henry is incapable of harming anyone, especially a child, and all too often the community upholds Uncle Henry as a hero. Some families have a history , and sadly, a very long history, of passive acceptance that “its in the family why make a big deal of it?” Still, all these family legacies can be summed up in one word: secrets.
For even though the family legacies mentioned above are acceptable within the family, the family has innate knowledge that the legacy must remain hidden within the family’s history. And this is a history lesson the child is indoctrinated into from birth.
So again, why does a child not tell? Perhaps there are other factors, such as fear of breaking up the family, or upsetting mom, or fear of the perpetrators admonitions to “not tell or else…” And perhaps the child is not yet ready to deal with his secret.
We must keep in mind that whatever reason a child has for not telling is valid for that child in that moment in time. And when the child does finally share, we must give her the respect and dignity she needs and deserves. Focusing on why she didn’t tell is more for our benefit and curiosity than hers. And the question itself often leads to the child feeling as if she was complicit with the perpetrator. Instead, we must help her to reconnect to her sense of beauty and help her set it free from the ugliness of the perpetrator’s actions. It truly is time to focus our efforts on removing the perpetrators ability to create and hide behind more secrecy, it is time to punish the perpetrator’s ugliness and deformity.